How to inspire and make way for innovation
As IT becomes more and more central to the business, it’s becoming clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to HR is no longer going to cut it for IT. Instead, CIOs and CHROs must identify their unique challenges and partner on solutions for addressing them.
For instance, if you look at HR in areas outside of IT, especially areas that are moving at a slower pace, you have well-documented processes to ensure salary equity aligned with static or slowly changing organizational structures. Those processes – which take into consideration factors such as total organizational vacancy and salary compression in bands – are in place to ensure the lowest salary is offered, and to fulfill that end goal, filling open positions takes time. In these standard environmental settings, this process makes sense and maximizes organizational resources.
But in certain areas of technology, we’re experiencing a new dynamic. HR and IT have to work together to be very nimble in response to a rapidly shifting environment. For instance, in some parts of an IT organization, salaries may be moving very slowly, but in other areas of the organization, they are increasing very quickly. Security and business intelligence, in particular, are two areas where salaries are growing rapidly, and there is keen competition for scarce personnel. In those areas, organizations must align with the market to attract talent and deliver results.
So while the overarching organization vacancy rate is important, you have to look at the vacancy rate across individual teams and really try to understand the cause of their vacancies. And you’ve got to be cognizant of salary compression in bands, but at the same time, you want to be intentional in your talent management processes – especially as it relates to how you’re attracting folks into the organization. Are you spending more money always refilling vacancies than offering competitive salaries and adjusting those salaries to reflect the marketplace?
I think it’s still important to have set processes in place, but the methods will be different. They will be a result of greater collaboration, and their end goals will be mission alignment, mission accomplishment, and agility as opposed to lowest salary negotiated months after a competitor hired the person you were interested in.
It sounds easier said than done. HR is overworked right now, and so is IT. Some upfront work is required to put in place the mechanisms that allow both organizations to move forward and accomplish overarching company goals. At organizations that I have led, we've done a few things to establish new and better HR approaches to IT hiring issues, and it has led us to a hiring process that is quick, nationwide, and engaging.
It starts with the CHRO and CIO having a common view of the marketplace and what personnel fields are battlegrounds for competition. This should be an annual conversation between the two leaders. Based on those conversations, salary negotiation flexibility for critical fields is an important second step. Finally, fine-tuned hiring processes ensure potential employees are evaluated and hired expeditiously.
Is your personnel evaluation system unique to IT? It should be, as you should be moving with much more agility than in almost any other part of the business. This doesn’t mean it is not aligned but just different.
I’ve worked at a place where HR had an eight-page evaluation form that was pretty generic. But in my IT organization, I was able to pare it down to two pages, and all of the questions directly aligned with our mission, vision, and value statements. Further, the evaluation form was created by setting goals at the beginning of the year, then at the end of the year, performance is mapped against those goals.
In between the goal setting and goal evaluation, there are quarterly feedback sessions between the staff member and leader to ensure there are no surprises at the end of the year. During times of great change, I have shifted the annual evaluation process to be a quarterly assessment process to speed change in the IT organization. At the time, I was working for a public institution and it took three evaluations (or three years) to eliminate non-A+ employees. By shifting the review period, I was able to quickly introduce fair and candid feedback and align personnel resources in less than a year. It's a very different approach than the standard and very bureaucratic evaluation process, but one that is much more valuable for an IT organization moving at the speed of trust.
Too often leaders espouse that people are their most precious resource yet invest nothing in their development. AT UAB, the CHRO and I firmly believe that people are our most valuable resource and that we needed to invest in those people. So training is an integral part of our HR approach – everyone in IT must have a training plan. Again, the rest of the organization doesn’t have that, but in collaboration with HR, we jointly decided that if we are going to remain relevant, we have to ensure our employees are continually trained on the most modern techniques, technologies, and ways of thinking about innovative solutions to the problems we are facing.
This has become a set HR process for IT. It's not optional, and it's not a line that can be cut. In fact, three percent of my budget is blocked every year – it's built into the cost of hiring a new employee and considered part of the fringe benefit package. Aside from the obvious benefit of producing an IT team that is always innovating, this process also enables us to create the kind of culture that attracts people and entices them to have a long-term relationship with our organization. This is especially important for positions that are in high demand where we may not be able to compete on salaries, like security and business intelligence.
The components that make our HR processes for IT unique may not be right for other IT organizations. This is where cooperation between the two departments becomes essential. HR and IT should partner to identify the unique challenges that the landscape is presenting, and valid processes for addressing them. When I initially approached HR in a previous role, there was significant pushback. At UAB, there is significant alignment. If you can lay out everything you are doing to augment pay and compensation as mechanisms for keeping and evaluating employees, you may find that the conversation begins to change.
Ultimately, HR doesn't want IT to have vacancies, so you if are bringing some ideas to the table and a willingness to collaborate, you can start to make headway on your shared goals. It must start with building trust between the two organizations so they can work together to solve a common problem.